The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation convened virtually for a briefing by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) on the quarter 2 and 3 performance outcomes for the 2022/23 financial year.
The Committee was generally satisfied with the performance of the Department but raised concerns about the poor spending on procurement from companies owned by people living with disabilities. The total procurement expenditure on goods and services from 1 April to 31 December 2022 amounted to R57 703 534. Only R563 290 (0.01 percent) was procured from people living with disabilities. The Department said that judgement should not be based on procurement expenditure only. A framework was in place to thoroughly assess the impact of technological initiatives on the lives of people with disabilities. Once completed, a more comprehensive report would be presented to the Committee.
The Chairperson noted apologies from six Members. She reminded the few Members present that one of the resolutions of the mid-term review was to do work at a sub-committee level. The work would continue, but a quorum was needed to adopt reports. The adopted reports would reflect the work agreed to by the entire Committee. She called on the Director-General (DG) to lead the presentation.
DSI Quarter 2 and 3 Performance 2022/23 financial year
Dr Phil Mjwara, DG, Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), outlined the performance highlights for the period under review. They included the following achievements:
The approval of the Decadal Plan by Cabinet;
Hosting the Summer School of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) at the University of Limpopo;
The official launch of a study into green hydrogen training at TVET colleges;
The release of a working paper, Measuring rural households and electricity access, by the South African Population Research Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN);
The establishment of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) documentation centres across the nine provinces;
The official launch by the Minister of the Science Diplomacy Green Hydrogen Round Tables on the sidelines of the World Science Forum;
The collaboration between the DSI and various universities on the smart village concept which would be based on the local conditions, infrastructure, resources and demands of particular communities, and the potential to export goods to urban areas. The pilot project involved Nyandeni communities and the Nyandeni Royal House, along with the Nyandeni Local Municipality and the OR Tambo District Municipality; and
The launch by the Minister and the Chairperson of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Council of the onsite construction of the SKA-Mid telescope at the SKA site. The SKA Organisation awarded R889 million to build the major civil infrastructure. The contract was in addition to contracts awarded to the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) and other South African companies such as Vivo, Zutari and Emcom.
Mr Imraan Patel, Deputy Director-General (DDG), Research and Development Support, elaborated on the roles of the three companies. The Vivo and Zutari contracts were for investment in infrastructure professional services valued at R43 million and R86 million, respectively. Both organisations were compliant with BEE level one. The Emcom contract, valued at R20 million, was for wireless network communication technology services to the SKA site. Because it was a small company, the Department was not able to establish the BEE level. Although the Department formed part of the adjudication panel, the selection of these companies was made by the SKA Organisation.
Dr Mjwara proposed a future briefing on the benefits of hosting the SKA telescope.
Ms Shumi Pango, Deputy Director: Advocacy and Policy Development, expanded on the smart village concept. The backdrop to the concept was the disciplines identified in the Indigenous Knowledge Act (IK Act) with specific reference to indigenous knowledge and indigenous architecture. The idea was to test if it could become a living Act and to respond to the DSI Decadal Plan. The smart village was an interdisciplinary project, involving all relevant stakeholders. The project required consideration of road infrastructure, involvement of agriculture, and an IT system to deal with connectivity issues. One of the most rural communities that lacked access to ordinary amenities was identified. Mixed-use buildings were provided for use by, for example, the Department of Home Affairs so that people did not have to travel to the city for birth certificates or to submit CVs. The goal was to decentralise the economy in an attempt to address the collapse of inner cities due to the influx of people and to alleviate joblessness.
UNESCO awarded the Department a Star Award for research done on the smart village. Members of the legislature in Bisho were excited about the concept when it was presented to them and viewed it as a solution to the challenges in the country. The concept was likewise presented to the OR Tambo District Municipality which also bought into the idea. It was similarly presented to the Nyandeni Local Municipality which decided to make the project part of its Integrated Development Plan (IDP) strategy, and one of the provincial projects in the Eastern Cape. A letter of endorsement was received from the Nyandeni Royal House. The road to the Royal House was notably in bad condition. The project sought to address issues of poor infrastructure such as access to roads and health facilities. Indigenous knowledge systems would be used to address these problems through this multi-disciplinary project.
Dr Mjwara presented an overview of the 2022/23 third quarter performance. The Department achieved 68 percent of the targets. The 32 percent not met were attributed to process delays due to factors outside the Department’s control, deficiencies during the implementation phase, and target formulation deficiencies due to unforeseen variables.
The quarter 2 overall financial performance results revealed the following: R5 637 billion planned expenditure; and R4 562 billion actual expenditure. This translated to 50 percent of the total adjusted budget of R9 145 billion.
The quarter 3 overall financial performance results revealed the following: R7 503 billion planned expenditure; and R7 048 billion actual expenditure. This translated to 77 percent of the total adjusted budget of R9 145 billion.
The DSI had effected virements to the value of R479 557 million from slow spending activities to cover shortfalls. Parliament approved a virement of R393 553 million, National Treasury approved a R75 688 million virement and the DG approved a R10 316 million virement.
See attached for full presentation
The Chairperson noted concerns raised by the DG and remarked that it was important for the Committee to support the Department in overcoming these challenges. For example, reports not being submitted on time would be flagged as an issue because the delays affected the Department’s ability to report back to the Committee. She acknowledged the approval of the Decadal Plan and noticed that the Department had made significant strides in implementing the plan. The goal was for the sixth Parliament to kick-start the plan and for the seventh Parliament to implement the plan. She took note of the matters that the DG suggested could be presented separately and requested the Secretariat to schedule a suitable date.
Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said she appreciated the many strides the Department had made on issues of equality, equity and social justice and welcomed the breakdown in the presentation reflecting these achievements. She commended the Department for presenting plans to remedy targets that were not achieved. She recently watched a programme featuring a publicity campaign on innovation interventions. She was impressed by the young female principal researcher from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) who participated in the episode. She acknowledged the Department's hard work to ensure that the District Development Model was working. The Committee prided itself on the road it had travelled in terms of the Decadal Plan and was looking forward to observing how it would benefit the country. To address the poor performance outcomes on targets relating to people living with disabilities, she suggested that the Department engage and include children from special needs schools as part of the solution. She thanked the Department for the comprehensive report.
Ms N Chirwa (EFF) asked how local companies would be supported and how many jobs would be created through the SKA project. She suggested that the impression was being created that South Africa was an equal stakeholder in the SKA project and asked for transparency about the multinational partnerships. The Minister had not been forthcoming about the issue of the SKA Head Office. She wanted to know what kind of knowledge was being referred to in the IKS centres to justify the programme. She suggested that an entire presentation might be needed to understand how the system worked. She found it concerning that people living with disabilities were not adequately represented in the executive, which might lead to them being sidelined. She asked for more accountability in this regard and wanted to know the consequences of not spending money on people with disabilities.
The Chairperson drew attention to the number of reviews the Department promised to make available to the Committee once the Minister approved them. She requested that the completed review report on the National Equipment Programme (NEP) be forwarded to the Committee. She asked for an update on the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR) review report. She was concerned about the inability of the Department to meet some of the targets.
She informed Ms Chirwa about the oversight visits to the SKA and IKS projects and the insights gained about community involvement in these programmes. She was aware that Ms Chirwa might have missed the briefings, considering that she was sitting on more than one committee, and requested the Department to forward the presentations to Ms Chirwa.
Implementing the IK Act was an important part of the work of the Committee. The University of KwaZulu-Natal has given input in this regard. She was pleased that the protection, promotion and capturing of IK continued during the Covid-19 period.
The Committee expected to be briefed on the state of management at the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the recruitment of the DDG for Technology Innovation.
The DG, Dr Mjwara, said a new approach to public engagement was being developed. The Department was working with entities to collect data on the elements of the transformation framework. He explained that an inter-governmental body prescribed how the SKA worked and how contributions were made. He undertook to share the broad economic impact of the SKA with the Committee at an appropriate time.
The NEP and SARIR reports would be submitted once the Minister and other stakeholders had approved them. Appointing a service provider for the Decadal Plan was a work in progress and would be shared with the Committee through the Minister.
The Department had signed off on a broad transformation strategy with local and provincial structures. Many young people were being trained in data analysis. He supported the idea of advocacy at special needs schools. He appreciated the inclusion of the smart village concept in the IDP. He was encouraged by the comments about the work done well and the Department would endeavour to work on issues that needed improvement.
The newly appointed SANSA CEO was due to start on 1 April 2023. A new structure for the Space Agency had been proposed but needed to be signed off by the National Treasury. A review of the budget process was to be completed by the end of July 2023, and implemented in the new financial year. The completed SANSA review would be shared with the Committee at an appropriate time. The Department was considering an interim solution for Programme 2, Technology Innovation, because the DDG had not yet been appointed.
The Chairperson said it would be important for the Department to succinctly package the continuous concerns raised by Members as part of the plan for the next financial year.
Dr Mjwara agreed to incorporate matters of concern in the Annual Performance Plan.
The DDG, Mr Patel, undertook to share a copy of the science engagement strategy with the Committee. He explained that in 2017 it was agreed that public engagements would be grounded in 11 public categories. Two key drivers emerged from the town hall meetings held with communities at the time.
The first was to firm up institutional arrangements. At the time, the South African Agency for Science and Technology (SAASTA) assisted the Department with organising events such as national science week. But a custom-built operation to take forward the science engagement strategy with the 11 publics required a different institution. The Department now worked with Parliament to make this an embedded responsibility and to empower SAASTA to be an agency to drive the public engagement strategy. The new SAASTA leadership had presented an expansion plan to achieve this goal.
Secondly, a decision was made to ring-fence a percentage of the finances for science engagement and to track investment and outcomes. The first detailed science engagement study would be available in the new financial year. The goal was to reach every person in the country through science. This was a substantial endeavour and would involve more engagements with the private sector.
The ten dimensions of the transformation framework would be the focus of a future meeting with the Committee. The knowledge workforce was the focus in the initial period while the emphasis of the second dimension was on benefits of technology investment, with a strong emphasis on young people.
Although the percentage procurement from businesses of people living with disabilities was minimal, a more comprehensive picture would indicate that a lot had been done, for example, in terms of apps for people with hearing disabilities and specific technologies for blind people, but which was not covered in the report. A framework was in place to provide a more thorough assessment of the impact of technology and knowledge on people living with disabilities but more data was needed for a more comprehensive report.
He explained that the SKA benefited from using detailed methodologies developed by people working on global projects such as the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the SKA to produce the first comprehensive report on the impact of the MeerKAT radio telescope to date. Once completed, the full report on the multiple dimensions of the benefits of the SKA, through programmes initiated in Carnarvon, would be presented to the Committee.
Mr Daan du Toit, DDG: International Cooperation and Resources, said it was important for South Africa to be more than an equal partner in the SKA partnership. The philosophy underpinning government's decision to be involved in the SKA partnership was for African scientists to lead the research to be done and for African engineers to play a leading role in the design and construction of the SKA. It was also envisaged that African governments would play a leading policy role in the SKA partnership. Sweden’s progress towards full membership of the SKA Observatory involved a critical contribution by the South African government from a policy and diplomacy perspective.
The SKA was the flagship frontier project of the 21st century. It would be constructed through different phases. The construction and design costs in the first phase amounted to more than R40 billion with annual investments of more than R1 billion over the next 50 years in terms of operational costs. It was clear that no country would be able to do this project on its own. It depended on international cooperation, which required a negotiated convention and the establishment of the global headquarters to be located in the United Kingdom (UK) in recognition of the UK’s significant investment.
Mr du Toit expressed the Department’s appreciation to the Members of the Committee who facilitated the SKA ratification in Parliament which enabled the convention to come into effect. As host of the telescope along with Australia, South Africa was more than an equal partner. Through different government procedures, the Department ensured that South Africa derived maximum benefit from participation in the project. The procurement policy of the SKA Observatory rested upon the principle of fair work return, meaning that countries received benefits in terms of industrial participation aligned with their investment in the project. As a host country, South Africa’s contribution was significant. The Department ensured that the return on investment was more than equal, not only from a monetary perspective but also from the nature of the work. South African companies were included in the technology-intensive work to create employment in the Northern Cape and to support the mission set out in the Decadal Plan for the digital economy.
Government decision-making in the SKA included negotiating weighted voting for many of the decisions. However, for crucial financial decisions, the voting favoured the host countries, South Africa, Australia and the UK.
Several South Africans played important leadership roles in the SKA Observatory. For example, the CFO of the National Research Foundation was recently elected as the Chair of the Observatory Finance Committee. South Africa had strong leadership representation throughout the project. The Department recently hosted the German Minister of Higher Education and Research. She was very complimentary after she visited the SKA site. South African leadership on the project was recognised and respected across the globe.
DG Mjwara added that Mr du Toit omitted to mention that he was the Deputy Chair of the SKA Observatory Finance Committee. About 30 percent of the team building the SKA had been jointly appointed to be part of the design of the final project. The Department would share the latest developments with the Committee at an appropriate time.
Mr Andries Shila, Director: Management Accounting, was tasked to explain the poor numbers in respect of procurement from companies owned by people living with disabilities. He said information was requested from the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, and the Department of Social Development to encourage companies owned by persons from those categories to register for future procurement, but the information was not forthcoming.
Ms Gugulethu Zwane, DDG: Institutional Planning and Support, said targets not met might be an issue of interpretation on the technical indicator descriptors (TIDs) submitted as the portfolio of evidence. The Department was engaged in an awareness campaign around the TIDs including the timelines for submission of information. Information was sometimes changed after it had been accepted and signed off, which presented the risk of audit findings. Strict timelines were set to avoid audit findings. If the portfolio of evidence was not submitted on time, it was recorded as targets not met. A detailed report on how the unmet targets were being addressed would be presented at the next meeting.
Deputy Director Pango explained that when the IKS policy was adopted in 2004, establishing an IKS office was imperative. The 2008 audit on metadata at indigenous knowledge institutions revealed a lack of data, which led to the establishment of offices at provincial level. The DSI operated at a national level and did not have a provincial footprint. Steering committees were established, with the approval of traditional leaders, to verify and scrutinise data. A catalogue was created to store the data. The DSI provided laptops and cameras to record and validate data. Funding of the steering committee was for the purpose of quality checking communally owned information. Data was classified in terms of different codes, for example, medicines, plants, and food. Data that met the eligibility criteria were stored in the IKS documentation centres across the nine provinces. Data that did not meet the criteria was retained for future reference. The purpose of the system was to enhance capacity.
DG Mjwara outlined the three key initiatives for the next 12 months. Firstly, based on the work on the Decadal Plan, the Department was invited to participate in the International Investment Conference on 14 April 2023. Three countries, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Japan, had shown an interest in the commercialisation of hydrogen. Secondly, work on producing locally produced vaccines had been completed; thirdly, the Department was considering investment in climate change initiatives. The Annual Performance Plan (APP) would present the broader themes. He hoped that the Committee found the work of the Department useful.
The Chairperson summarised the proceedings based on the discussion and responses. The Department needed to submit some information to the Committee and must share certain presentations with Ms Chirwa. Long-term plans should be incorporated into the APP. The Committee acknowledged the great work of the Department on the SKA project and the highlights that had been achieved, including the implementation of the Decadal Plan. The Committee was however concerned that inputs from entities were not being submitted on time.
The meeting was adjourned.
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